Commend Supreme Court for Supporting HIV Prevention Efforts

Wen-Yan King

Target: Justice John Glover Roberts Jr., Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States

Goal: Commend justices for allowing AIDS prevention groups to receive funding without requiring them to hold certain political views

The Supreme Court recently made a huge decision in favor of AIDS prevention and freedom of speech. The Court struck down a 2003 federal law that required any groups receiving federal AIDS prevention funds espouse “a policy explicitly opposing prostitution” or the legalization of prostitution. The decision allows any group committed to HIV/AIDS prevention efforts to receive federal funding without having to espouse certain ideological positions. The decision deserves commendation, as it supports free speech and helps to remove politics from the vital issue of preventing the spread of infectious disease.

In 2003, Congress passed the United States Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Act, mandating billions of dollars to global relief organizations. However, the bill was ultimately used as an instrument of conservative, sex-negative ideology. The Act required that any organization receiving funds promote abstinence, encourage monogamy, and have policies explicitly opposing prostitution and the legalization of prostitution. Such requirements hindered the ability of non-government organizations fighting HIV/AIDS. Such groups were forced to choose between “taking the government’s money and say[ing] something they might not really believe” or taking “a principled stand against the Pledge” and “forfeiting a share of billions of dollars in government aid that they could otherwise put to good use curbing disease and relieving human suffering.” The policy requirements frustrated the law’s own purpose of fighting the spread of AIDS. As Marine Buissonnière, director of the Open Society Public Health Program, said, “Public health groups cannot tell sex workers that we ‘oppose’ them, yet expect them to be partners in preventing HIV.”

The Supreme Court, however, has found that law unconstitutional, opening the door to federal funding for all groups committed to HIV/AIDS prevention regardless of their positions on unrelated political issues. Writing for the six-justice majority, Chief Justice Roberts declared that the anti-prostitution policy requirement went beyond “preventing recipients from using private funds in a way that would undermine the federal program” to “compelling a grant recipient to adopt a particular belief as a condition of funding.” Eloquently summing up the law’s constitutional problems, the Chief Justice stated that the federal government “may not deny a benefit to a person on a basis that infringes his constitutionally protected . . . freedom of speech even if he has no entitlement to that benefit.’”

This decision will help AIDS relief organizations reach out to at-risk groups without having to espouse policies that alienate those very groups. It also establishes precedent that will impede the ability of lawmakers to unscrupulously condition federal funds on ideological loyalty. Please sign the petition and thank the court for standing up for free speech and ideology-free government.


Dear Chief Justice Roberts,

I wish to express my sincerest gratitude for you and your colleagues’ recent decision in Agency for International Development v. Alliance for Open Society International.  The majority’s ruling in this matter was not only good law, but a moral decision. Your ruling will improve the ability of organizations committed to AIDS prevention to do their work unhindered by ideological constraints, and establishes a sound precedent against the use of government funding to compel allegiance to a particular viewpoint.

HIV/AIDS remains a deadly scourge, and the United States government deserves commendation for its funding of treatment and prevention throughout the world. But those efforts are hamstrung when funding is conditioned on support of political positions unrelated to prevention of HIV, and when prevention funding is used as a means of coercing and impeding speech. While the official policy in Washington opposes prostitution and its legalization, many believe that legalization and regulation would reduce many of the problems associated with illicit prostitution, such as a coercion, human trafficking, and disease. Regardless of the validity of those positions, the government undermines its own stated goal of disease prevention by conditioning receipt of vital funding on allegiance to one of those viewpoints. The Court’s ruling will allow agencies committed to HIV/AIDS to do their work, and frees them from the requirement of being agents of unrelated policies. This decision will also serve as a bulwark against future imposition of ideological conditions on federal grants. Again, I thank you for siding with free speech and AIDS prevention over partisan ideology.


[Your Name Here]

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46 Signatures

  • Hermann Kastner
  • Jenna Miles
  • James Thrailkill
  • jeff hopkins
  • Mal Gaff
  • Terrie Phenicie
  • Nancy Petersen
  • Holly Hall
  • Frédérique Pommarat
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